The power to redelineate electoral constituencies is provided for in Article 113 of our Federal Constitution. In that provision, it is stated that the redelineation of the electoral constituencies shall be made within a period of not less than eight years and not more than 10 years from the completion of the previous review. The last time our Election Commission (EC) conducted and completed the redelineation exercise was in 2003 and so, the time is up again for the EC to conduct yet another redelineation exercise of our electoral constituencies.
This was confirmed through news report on the announcement by the EC chairman that the redelineation work will begin early this year, probably with a motion to be tabled in the Parliament in March and work is likely to be completed with the recommendation report tabled in the Parliament in 2015.
The need to regularly re-delineate our electoral constituencies is important so that our elected lawmakers will be more reflective of our population and be able to better serve the rakyat through their constituencies. More so, in view of the substantial increases in the number of voters in the last 10 years, some constituencies, like Kapar, Subang, Serdang and Gombak, now have more than 100,000 voters. It is thus, difficult for the elected representatives of these constituencies to effectively serve their constituents.
The difference in the sizes of the constituencies is one of the major complaints of lawmakers and the rakyat. But where should the EC draw the line in determining the size of each constituency?
The Federal Constitution is silent on this point and leaves it to the discretion of the EC to determine the sizes of the constituencies. Accordingly, the EC has developed its own constituency definition whereby urban constituencies are made up of more than 60,000 voters, 40,000 to 60,000 voters for each semi-urban constituency, and 20,000 to 40,000 voters in each rural constituency.
Such definitionw by the EC have, however, lead to unequal constituency sizes with rural constituencies given too much weightage. For instance, in Selangor a vote in Sabak Bernam, which has approximately 37,000 voters, is worth four votes in Kapar, which has approximately 144,000 voters. This has thus, led to the opposition coalition crying foul, claiming they had won the popular vote at the 13th General Election yet an insufficient number of seats to form the government.
In situations like this, we ought to revert to the original Merdeka Federal Constitution, which gave effect to the Reid Commission’s recommendation, that the number of voters in each constituency in the same state should not deviate from the average number of voters in that state by more than 15%. In effect, this would lead to a larger number of seats in urban areas. Such a move will allow each constituency to be more representative and reflective of the voices of the people. The bigger constituencies like Kapar and Subang would thus be broken down to two or more smaller constituencies to allow elected representatives to better serve their constituents.
In addition, during the redelineation exercise, the EC ought to create more mixed constituencies to better mirror the Malaysian population. This is due the fact that in the past we have had too many constituencies of which a particular race is overly dominant in a single constituency. Such situations have led to certain political leaders openly declaring that there is no need to take care and accommodate the interests of other races, as the political reality is that they only need the support of a particular race in their constituency. Declarations like those contradict the role of elected representatives who are supposed to serve all their constituents regardless of race, ethnicity and religion. Thus, the creation of more mixed constituencies will ensure that elected representatives consider and address the wants and needs of all Malaysians, give more space for minority voices in the august Parliament and state assemblies, and better represent Malaysians.
A final point that the EC should take into account during the redelineation exercise is the Malaysia Agreement in 1963 which promises one-third Parliamentary seats to the new states which joined Malaya to form Malaysia. The departure of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965 has left Sabah and Sarawak with less than the one-third of the Parliamentary seats. It is important that this promise be upheld to protect the interests of Sabah and Sarawak and one-third of the seats in Parliament will ensure that they are able to block any proposed amendment to the Federal Constitution which are not favourable to them.
Hopefully, the redelineation exercise will be conducted impartially, and in good faith, in the interest of all Malaysians, for a better Malaysia.> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own